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What to expect in NYC now that weed is legal

From smoking lounges to tons of new dispensaries, here's what legalization is bringing to NYC

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

New York City is undergoing a huge cultural shift now that weed is legal in New York State. 

Since people can legally have up to three ounces of recreational cannabis on them at any given time, we're bound to see more dispensaries open up and pivot to selling recreational products, a relaxing of cultural norms and even a huge boom to tourism over the next few years.

We spoke with leaders in the cannabis industry about what New Yorkers can expect in the near future—specifically, the future of weed in New York City.

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Less stigma, more jobs

Now that weed is legal, it'll be more visible than ever on the streets and the hope is that fewer Black and brown New Yorkers will be targeted in racially biased drug arrests. Another benefit? More jobs.

Under the new law, smoking weed will be permitted on sidewalks in the city and wherever cigarette smoking is allowed. That means that those 21 and older who have been hiding their activity indoors will now be allowed to freely smoke out and about (except at parks, beaches, boardwalks, pedestrian plazas and playgrounds). 

In 2018, Charlotte Hanna opened the cannabis dispensary Rebelle in Great Barrington, Massachusetts two years after marijuana was legalized there. She immediately saw an influx of "all kinds of people from all walks of life" come into her store.

"All types of people have been attracted to the store—your next-door neighbor, teachers, parents, even multigenerational families where parents in their 60s and their grown adult children are coming into together," she tells us. "It has been this taboo, hidden thing, and it'll be nice to see that happen in New York, too."

More importantly, the legalization removes the criminality that has been placed on weed possession (it literally expunges records for people convicted under the old law) and it earmarks 40 percent of funds toward Black and brown communities, 40 percent for public education and 20 percent toward drug treatment, prevention and education.

There will also be more jobs created as a result with the influx of dispensaries and, outside NYC, production facilities.

Massachusetts has seen a lot of jobs created in the industry, especially in the manufacturing of cannabis products. Many companies have redeveloped old paper and textile mills in the state, which has brought some economic recovery, Hanna says. 

The sheer amount of new businesses and jobs across the industry, in the cultivation/manufacturing, distribution and sales of cannabis will be staggering—New York is expecting the recreational market to drum up about $350 million in yearly tax revenue and billions of dollars in annual sales.

It's obvious that with such an influx of revenue, cultural mores on the topic of weed may turn favorable over time.

Rebelle products
Courtesy: Rebelle

Smoking lounges, eventually

That being said, it's unlikely social lounges where smoking is permitted will crop up any time soon. The New York law does state that eventually people will be able to use marijuana products at lounges or "consumption sites" (and get it delivered to their homes and cultivate up to six plants for personal use).

Unfortunately in Massachusetts, those types of places still have not opened these four years later. The state has not created a license class for that yet and customers cannot consume products on-site at dispensaries. 

Eventually this year, New York State will put together an Office of Cannabis Management, which will regulate the recreational market, the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs and will be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board. Regulations can't be put in place until these members are in office, so it'll be a waiting game for a bit.

Ben Kovler, the founder and CEO of Green Thumb Industries, a multi-state cannabis operator which owns New York's FP Wellness medical marijuana dispensaries, says there will be a demand for on-premises consumption like there is for alcohol, so there is a definite need for these types of spaces, whether they are lounges or clubs. 

Courtesy: Rebelle

New recreational dispensaries and production facilities outside of NYC

Once regulations are set and recreational licenses can be applied for—probably at least a year out from now—New York City will see new dispensaries and formerly solely medical marijuana dispensaries that will offer both types.

Last year, Massachusetts had about 100 dispensaries across the state. Hanna says rolling out dispensary licenses has been "pretty slow" and she's seen it take about 18 months from legislation passing to applications opening.

Of course, current medical dispensaries and CBD/kratom purveyors are certainly eyeing their recreational futures.

CBD Kratom, which opens its first NYC location in Chelsea today for 4/20, plans on offering recreational cannabis products as soon as licensing opens. Although the store, which has 36 locations across the U.S., already sells Delta-8 THC, it's looking forward to the opportunity to offer even more products.

"It's something people are looking at and waiting to hear about how the law is written, and obviously we are open to it and happy to sell it and expand our product offering to our customers," says Dafna Revah, co-owner of the company.

CBD Kratom, which is based out of St. Louis, has had a lot of New Yorker customers ordering legal CBD products online, so it was a clear choice for Revah and her husband/partner David Palatnik to open in NYC this year. Knowing that the state just legalized recreational marijuana also offers even more chance of growing business. 

Green Thumb Industries will expand from four dispensaries in New York to eight, and by late 2022, it'll have a brand new $50 million manufacturing production in a former federal prison in Warwick, New York, where many people used to be imprisoned for possession of marijuana, Kovler says.

"The market is monstrous — the legalization means there's a lot of opportunity," he tells us. "In 2020, the medical marijuana industry in New York was $110 million but it will be 50 times that. It's the Great American story and it would be awesome if we get it right."

What he means by that is the state needs to take its time to execute the infrastructure the industry needs to work like a well-oiled machine. For the size of New York, rolling the application process out in six months like Illinois did just isn't feasible, he says.

People weeding a garden.
Photograph: Supplied

Canna-tourism and weed-themed fun

Until then, places like New York City, where recreational weed is legal, will see a wave of tourists coming for the bud, which has been coined "Canna-tourism."

Every single weekend, Hanna's dispensary in Great Barrington sees customers from New York who have driven two and a half hours to shop. Some of them have even made it part of a cannabis tour, where they hit every dispensary on their path, she said.

Eventually, she'd like to see regions like the Berkshires become like a sort of Napa Valley for cannabis, where dispensaries offer tasting room-like experiences.

Already in Massachusetts and other states, there are "puff, pass & paint nights," "puff buses," and "bud & breakfasts."

As long as legislators listen to the industry and allow for some creativity, Hanna believes New York can lead the way as it has so many times before.

"I have 100% confidence in New Yorkers — that they can make the cannabis industry so creative and cutting edge," she said. "New York is its own thing. We can bring New York creativity and sensibility to this."

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